Journey of the Soul After Death
Different Statements from the Upanishads.
WE have now to consider what the Upanishads themselves teach on the relation of the soul to God, and more particularly of the return of the soul to Brahman. Here we shall find that both schools of the Vedântists, that of Râmânuga and that of Saṅkara, can appeal to texts of the Upanishads in support of their respective opinions, so that it seems as if the Upanishads combined both and rejected neither of the leading Vedânta theories. Of course there have been long discussions among Vedântists in India, and likewise among students of the Vedânta in Europe, as to which of the two schools represents the true spirit of the Upanishads. If we take the Upanishads as a whole, I should say that Saṅkara is the more thorough and faithful exponent of their teaching; but if we admit an historical growth in the Upanishads themselves, Râmânuga may be taken as representing more accurately an earlier period of Upanishad doctrines, which were cast into the shade, if not superseded, by a later growth of Vedântic speculation. That later growth, represented by the denial of any reality except that of the highest Brahman, is almost ignored by Râmânuga or interpreted by him with great freedom. If we understand Râmânuga rightly, he would seem satisfied with the soul being at death emancipated from samsâra or further births, passing on to the world of Brahman, masc., and there enjoying everlasting bliss in a kind of heavenly paradise. Saṅkara, on the contrary, goes beyond, and looks upon final emancipation as a recovering of true self-consciousness, self-consciousness meaning with him the consciousness of the self as being in reality the whole and undivided Brahman.
We shall best be able to follow this twofold development of Vedântic thought, if we first examine the more important passages in the Upanishads which treat of the return of the soul to the Lower Brahman, and then see how these passages have been harmonised in the Vedânta-sûtras1
We begin with the descriptions of the road that is to be taken by the soul after death. Here we find the following more or less differing accounts in different Upanishads.
Passages from the Upanishads.
I. Brihad-âranyaka VI. (8) 2, 13:
A man lives so long as he lives, and then when he dies, they take him to the fire, (the funeral pile); and then the fire is his fire, the fuel is his fuel, the smoke his smoke, the light his light, the coals his coals, and the sparks his sparks. In that fire the Devas, the gods, offer man (as a sacrifice), and from that sacrifice man (purusha) rises, brilliant in colour.
Those who thus know this and those who in the forest worship the True as faith2
, go to light, from light to day, from day to the waxing half of the moon (new moon), from the waxing half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes North3
, from those six months to the world of the Devas, from the world of the Devas to the sun, from the sun to the place of lightning4
. When they have reached the place of lightning, a person, not a man5
, comes near them and leads them to the worlds of Brahman. In these worlds of Brahman they dwell for ever and ever (parâh
, and there is no return for them.
Here you see a distinctly mythological view of a future life, some of it hardly intelligible to us. The departed is supposed to rise from the pile on which his body was burnt, and to move on to the light (ark
. This is intelligible, but after the light follows the day, and after the day the six months of the sun's journey to the North. What can be the meaning of that? It might mean that the departed has to wait a day and then six months before he is admitted to the world of the Devas, and then to the sun, and then, to the place of lightning. But it may mean also that there are personal representatives of all these stations, and that the departed has to meet these half-divine beings on his onward journey. This is Bâdarâyan
a's view. Here you see the real difficulties of a translation. The words are clear enough, but the difficulty is how to connect any definite ideas with the words.
So much for those who pass on the Devayâna, the, Path of the Gods, from the funeral pile to the worlds of Brahman, and who are not subject to a return, i.e. to new births. If, however, the departed has not yet reached a perfect knowledge of Brahman, he proceeds after death on the Pitriyâna, the Path of the Fathers. Of them the Brihad-âranyaka (VI. (8) 2, 16) says:
But they who conquer the worlds by sacrifice, charity, and austerity go to smoke, from smoke to night, from night to the waning half of the moon, from the waning half of the moon to the six months when the sun moves South; from these months to the world of the Fathers, from the world of the Fathers to the moon. Having reached the moon, they become food, and the gods consume them there, as they consume Soma (moon) the King, saying, Wax and wane! But when this is over, they go back to the same ether8
, from ether to air, from air to rain, from rain to the earth. And when they have reached the earth, they become food, they are offered again in the fire which is man, and thence are born in the fire of woman9
. Then they rise upwards to the worlds, and go the same round as before. Those, however, who know neither of the two paths, become worms, insects, and creeping things.
We have now to examine some other passages in the Upanishads, where the same two paths are described.
II. Brihad-âranyaka V. (7) 10, 1:
When the person goes away from this world, he comes to the wind. Then the wind makes room for him, like the hole of a wheel, and through it he mounts higher. He comes to the sun. Then the sun makes room for him, like the hole of a lambara (drum?), and through it he mounts higher. He comes to the moon. Then the moon makes room for him, like the hole of a drum, and through it he mounts higher, and arrives at the world where there is no sorrow, and no snow. There he dwells eternal years (sâsvatîh samâh).
III. Khândogya-Upanishad VIII. 6, 5:
When he departs from this body he mounts upwards by those very rays (the rays of the sun which enter the arteries of the body), or he is removed while saying Om10
. And quickly as he sends off his mind (as quick as thought), he goes to the sun. For the sun is the door of the world (lokadvâram), an entrance for the knowing, a bar to the ignorant.
IV. Khândogya-Upanishad V. 10, 1:
Those who know this, and those who in the forest follow austerity as faith, go to the light (arkis), from light to day, from day to the waxing half of the moon, from the waxing half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes to the North, from the six months when the sun goes to the North to the year, from the year to the sun, from the sun to the moon, from the moon to the lightning. There is a person, not a man, he leads them to Brahman. This is the Path of the Gods.
But those who in their village practise charity as sacrifice and pious works, go to the smoke, from smoke to night, from night to the other (waning) half of the moon, from the other half of the moon to the six months when the sun moves to the South. But they do not reach the year. From the months they go to the world of the Fathers, from the world of the Fathers to the ether, from the ether to the moon. That is Soma, the King. That is the food of the gods, the gods feed on it. Having tarried there, as long as there is a rest (of works), they return again on the way on which they came, to the ether, from the ether to the air (vâyu). When be has become air he becomes smoke, having become smoke he becomes mist, having become mist he becomes a cloud, having become a cloud he rains down. Then they are born11
as rice and corn, herbs and trees, sesamum and beans. From thence the escape is very difficult. For whoever they are who eat that food and scatter seed, he becomes like unto them. Those whose conduct has been good will probably attain some good birth, the birth of a Brâhman
a, or a Kshatriya, or a Vaisya. But those whose conduct has been evil will probably attain an evil birth, the birth of a dog, or a hog, or a k
âla. On neither of these two roads do those small, oft-returning creatures proceed. Theirs is the third state, of which it is said, Live and die.
V. Khândogya-Upanishad VIII. 4, 3:
To those only who find that Brahma-world by means of Brahmakarya (study and abstinence), does that Brahma-world belong, and they move about freely in all worlds.
VI. Khândogya-Upanishad VIII. 13:
I go from S
yâma, the black (the moon), to the S
abala, the speckled (the sun), and from the speckled to the black. Like a horse shaking his hairs (I shake off) evil, like the moon, freeing himself from the mouth of Râhu, having shaken off the body, I go purified in mind to the eternal world of Brahman12
VII. Mundaka-Upanishad I. 2, 11:
But those who practise penance and faith in the forest, tranquil, wise, and living on alms, depart, free from passions (dust), through the gate of the sun, where that immortal Person dwells whose nature is imperishable.
VIII: Kaushîtaki-Upanishad I. 2:
itra said: All who depart from this world (or this body) go to the moon. In the former, (the waxing) half, the moon waxes big by their vital spirits, but in the other, (the waning) half, the moon causes them to be born. Verily, the moon is the door of the Svarga-world (heavenly world). Now, if a man answer the moon (rightly)13
, the moon sets him free. But if a man does not answer the moon, the moon showers him down, having become rain, upon this earth. And according to his deeds, and according to his knowledge, he is born again here as a worm, or as an insect, or as a fish, or as a bird, or as a lion, or as a boar, or as a serpent (?), or as a tiger, or as a man, or as somebody else in different places. But when he has arrived, the moon asks him: Who art thou? And he shall answer: O seasons14
, the seed was brought from the bright moon who was poured forth (in rain); who consists of fifteen parts, who harbours our fathers15
; raise me now in a vigorous man, and pour me through a vigorous man into a mother.
Then I am born as the twelfth or thirteenth additional month through the twelve- or thirteen-fold father (the year). I know that, I remember that. O seasons, bring me then to immortality. By this truth and by this penance I am a season16
, a child of the seasons. I am thou. Thereupon the moon sets him free.
Having reached the Path of the gods, he comes to the world of Agni (fire), to the world of Vâyu (air), to the world of Varuna, to the world of Indra, to the world of Pragâpati, to the world of Brahman. In that world there is the lake Âra, the moments called Yeshtiha, the river Vigarâ (ageless), the tree Ilya, the city Sâlagya, the palace Aparâgita (unconquerable), the door-keepers Indra and Pragâpati, the hall of Brahman, called Vibhu, the throne Vikakshanâ (intelligence), the couch Amitaugas (endless splendour), and the beloved Mânasî (mind), and her image Kâkshushî (eye), who, taking flowers, are weaving the worlds, and the Apsaras, the Ambâs (scriptures?), and Ambâyavîs (understanding?), and the rivers Ambayâs. To this world he who knows this approaches. Brahman says, Run towards him with such worship as is due to myself. He has reached the river Vigarâ (ageless), he will never age.
Then five hundred Apsaras go towards him, one hundred with fruit in their hands, one hundred with ointments in their hands, one hundred with garlands in their hands, one hundred with garments in their hands, one hundred with perfumes in their hands. They adorn him with an adornment worthy of Brahman, and when thus adorned with the adornment of Brahman, the knower of Brahman moves towards Brahman. He (the departed) approaches the lake Âra, and crosses it by the mind, while those who come to it without knowing the truth, are drowned in it. He comes to the moments called Yesht
iha, and they flee from him. He comes to the river Vig
arâ, and crosses it by the mind alone, and then shakes off his good and evil deeds17
. His beloved relatives obtain the good, his unbeloved relatives the evil he has done. And as a man driving in a chariot, might look at the two wheels, thus he will look at day and night, thus at good and evil deeds, and at all pairs (correlative things). Being freed from good and evil he, the knower of Brahman, moves towards Brahman.
He approaches the tree Ilya, and the odour of Brahman reaches him. He approaches the city Sâlagya, and the flavour of Brahman reaches him. He approaches the palace Aparâgita, and the splendour of Brahman reaches him. He approaches the door-keepers Indra and Pragâpati, and they run away from him. He approaches the hall Vibhu, and the glory of Brahman reaches him. He approaches the throne Vikakshanâ. The Sâman verses, Brihat and Rathantara, are the eastern feet of that throne; the Sâman verses, Syaita and Naudhasa, its western feet; the Sâman verses, Vairûpa and Vairâga, its sides, lengthways; the Sâman verses, Sâkvara and Raivata, its sides, crossways. That throne is Pragñâ (knowledge), for by knowledge he sees clearly. He approaches the couch Amitaugas. That is prâna (breath, speech). The past and the future are its eastern feet; prosperity and earth its western feet; the Sâman verses, Brihat and Rathantara, are the two sides lengthways of the couch; the Sâman verses, Bhadra and Yagñâyagñîya, are the cross-sides at the head and feet (east and west); the Rik and Sâman are the long sheets, the Yagus the cross-sheets, the moonbeams the cushion, the Udgîtha the coverlet; prosperity the pillow. On this couch sits Brahman, and he who knows this, mounts it first with one foot. Then Brahman says to him: Who art thou? and he shall answer: I am a season, and the child of the seasons, sprung from the womb of endless space, the seed of the wife, the light of the year, the self of all that is. Thou art the self of all that is; what thou art, that am I.
Difficulties of Interpretation.
This is as close a translation as I can give. But I must confess that many of the names here used in describing the reception given by the god Brahman to the departed, are unintelligible to me. They were equally unintelligible to the native commentators, who, however, try to discover a meaning in some of them, as when they explain the lake Âra, which the departed has to cross, as derived from Ari, enemy, these enemies being he passions and inclinations of the heart. We are told afterwards that those who come to that lake without knowing the truth, are drowned in it. When the throne, on which Brahman is seated, is called Vikakshanâ, this seems to mean Intelligence, and Mânasî also is probably a personification of the mind of which Kâkshushî, representing the eye, may well be called the image. But there is such a mixture of symbolical and purely picturesque language in all this, and the text seems so often quite corrupt, that it seems hopeless to discover the original intention of the poet, whoever he was, that first imagined this meeting between the departed and the god Brahman. On some points we gain a little light, as, for instance, when we are told that the departed, after having crossed the river Vigarâ (the ageless) by his mind, shakes off his good and his evil deeds, and that he leaves the benefit of his good deeds to those among his relatives who are dear to him, while his evil deeds fall to the share of his unbeloved relations. We also see more clearly that the throne on which Brahman sits is meant for Pragñâ or wisdom, while the couch Amitaugas is identified with prâna, that is breath and speech, and the coverings with the Vedas.
Though there is a general likeness in these different accounts of the fate of the soul after death, still we see how each Upanishad has something peculiar to say on the subject. In some the subject is treated very briefly, as in the Mundaka-Upanishad I. 2, 11, where we are only told that the soul of the pious man passes through the gate of the sun where the immortal Person (spirit) dwells. In the Khândogya-Upanishad VIII. 6, 5, one account is equally brief. Here we are told that the soul departs upwards by the rays of the sun, reaches the sun, which is the door to the worlds (loka) for the wise, but a bar to the foolish. The Brihadâranyaka also gives in one passage (V. 10, 1) a short account of the soul's journey from the body to the air, from the air to the sun, from the sun to the moon, from the moon to the painless world where the soul dwells for eternal years. Similar short accounts occur in Taitt. Up. I. 6, and Prasna Up. I. 9.
Historical Progress in the Upanishads.
If we look at the fuller accounts, we can easily perceive that the earliest conception of life after death was that represented by the Pitriyâna, the Path of the Fathers, that is, the path which led the soul to the moon, where the Fathers, or those who have gone before him, dwell. The description of this path is much the same in the Brihad-âranyaka and in the Khândogya-Upanishad. The soul enters into smoke (probably of the funeral pile), then comes to the night, then to the waning half of the moon, then to the six months when the sun moves towards the South. But it does not reach the year, but moves straight to the abode of the Fathers and to the moon. When this abode in the moon came to be considered as temporary only, and as followed by a new cycle of existences, it was natural to imagine a Devayâna which led beyond to the gods and to eternal happiness without any return to new transmigrations. But this abode in the Devaloka also did not satisfy all desires, and a further progress was admitted from the sun to the moon, or direct from the sun to the abode of lightning, from whence a spirit led the souls to the world of Brahman. This world, though still conceived in mythological phraseology, was probably for a long time the highest point reached by the thinkers and poets of the Upanishads, but we shall see that after a time even this approach to a personal and objective God was not considered final, and that there was a higher bliss which could be reached by knowledge only, or by the consciousness of the, soul's inseparateness from Brahman. We see traces of this in passages of the Upanishads such as, Brih. Âr. Up. V. 4, 8, Wise people who know Brahman go on this road (devayâna) to the heaven-world (svarga), and higher up from thence, as quite freed. Or Maitr. Brâhm. Up. VI. 30, Stepping over the world of Brahman, they go by it to the highest path.
While to our minds the belief in the soul's journey to the world of the Fathers, the world of the gods, and the world of the mythological Brahman (masc.), seems to present an historical development, it was not so with Vedânta philosophers. They looked upon every passage in the Upanishads as equally true, because revealed, and they tried to combine all the accounts of the soul's journey, even when they clearly differed from one another, into one harmonious whole.
Attempts to harmonise the different Statements of the Upanishads.
How they achieved this, I shall best be able to show you by translating some portion of the Vedânta-sûtras with the commentary by Saṅkara. Though some of it may seem tedious, yet it will be useful in giving you some idea of the style and spirit of the later Vedânta philosophers. You will observe how the Sûtras by themselves are almost unintelligible, though we see, after reading Saṅkara's comments, that they really contain the gist of the whole argument.
FOURTH BOOK, THIRD CHAPTER.
On the road beginning with light, &c., because this is widely recognised.
Saṅkara explains: From the beginning of the journey (of the departed) the process, as stated, is the same. But the actual journey is revealed differently indifferent sacred texts. One, by means of the junction of the arteries with the solar rays, is found in the Khând. Up. VIII. 6, 5, Then he mounts upwards by those very rays. Another, beginning with the light (arkis) is found in Khând. Up. V. 10, 1, They go to the light, from light to day. Another occurs in the Kaush. Up. I. 3, Having reached the path of the gods, he comes to the world of Agni, or fire. Again, another occurs in the Brih. Âr. V. 10, 1, When the person goes away from this world, he comes to the wind. And one more in the Mund. Up. I. 2, 11, says, They depart free from passions through the gate of the sun.
Here then a doubt arises, whether these roads are really different from each other, or whether it is one and the same road, only differently described. It is assumed, by way of argument, that they are different roads, because they occur in the Upanishads under different heads and belong to different kinds of religious meditation (upâsanâ); also because the limitation that he mounts upward by these very
rays, would be contradicted, if we regarded what is said about light (ark
is) and the rest; and the statement about the quickness, when it it said, as quickly as he sends off the mind18
, he goes to the sun, would also be upset. If on these grounds it is said that these roads are different from one another, we reply: No
, On the road beginning with light
; that is, We answer that every one who desires Brahman, hastens on by the road that begins with the light. And why?Because that road is so widely recognised
. For that road is known indeed to all sages. Thus it is said in the chapter on the Five Fires, And those also, who in the forest worship the True (i.e. Brahman) as faith, &c., clearly proclaiming that this road beginning with the light, is meant for those also who practise other kinds of knowledge. This might pass, we are told, and with regard to those kinds of knowledge for which no road whatever is mentioned, the road beginning with the light might be admitted. But if another and another road are proclaimed, why should the road beginning with the light be accepted? Our answer to all this is simply this. This might be so, if these roads were entirely different, but it is really one and the same road with different attributes, leading to the world of Brahman, and sometimes determined by one, sometimes by another predicate. For whenever one part has been recognised, the relation should be that as between what determines and what is to be determined19
, and the various determinations of the road must be summed up together, just as we sum up the several attributes of a science which is one and the same, though its treatments may vary. And even if the subject (under which a certain road to Brahman is taught) is different, the road is the same, because its goal is the same, and because one part of the road has been recognised (as the same). For in all the following passages one and the same object, viz. the obtainment of the Brahma-world, is clearly shown. We read (Bri
h. Âr. VI. 2, 15): In these worlds of Brahman they dwell for ever and ever;(Bri
h. V. 10, 1): There he dwells eternal years;(Kaush. I. 7) Whatever victory, whatever greatness belongs to Brahman, that victory he gives, that greatness he reaches;(Kh
ând. VIII. 4, 3): That world of Brahman belongs to those only who find it by Brahmak
arya. And if it is said that in admitting the approach to the light, there would be no room for the restriction expressed in the words, By these very
rays, that -is no fault; for its true object is the reaching of these rays. The same word which includes the obtainment of the rays, need not exclude the light, &c. Therefore we must admit that this very union with the rays is here emphasised. And what is said about the speed is not upset, if we confine ourselves to the road beginning with light, for the object is quickness, as if it were said, one gets there in the twinkling of an eye.
And the passage (Khând. V. 10, 8): On neither of these two ways, which attests the third or the evil place, shows at the same time that besides the Pitriyâna, the road to the Fathers, there is but one other road, the Devayâna, the road to the Gods, one station of which is the light. And if in the passage on the light, the road-stations are more numerous, while elsewhere they are less numerous, it stands to reason that the less numerous should be explained in conformity with the more numerous. On these grounds also the Sûtra says, On the road beginning with light, &c., because this is widely recognised.
From the year to the wind, on account of the presence and absence of determinants.
Saṅkara explains: But by, what peculiar combination or insertion can there be the mutual relation of what determines (attributes), and what is determined (subject) between the various attributes of the road? The teacher out of kindness to us, combines them as follows. By the Kaushîtaka (I. 3) the Devayâna is described in these words: He, having reached the path of the gods, comes to the world of Agni (fire), to the world of Vâyu (air), to the world of Varuna, to the world of Indra, to the world of Pragâpati (Virâg), to the world of Brahman (Hiranyagarbha). Now here the words light and world of Agni mean the same thing, as both express burning, and there is no necessity here for looking for any succession. But Vâyu (the wind) is not mentioned in the road beginning with light, how then is he here to be inserted? The answer is: In the passage (Khând. V. 10, 1) we read: They go to the light, from light to day, from day to the waxing half of the moon, from the waxing half of the moon to the six months when the sun goes to the North, from the six months when the sun goes to the North to the year, from the year to the sun. Here then they reach Vâyu, the wind, after the year and before the sun; and why? Because there is both absence and presence of determinants. For in the words, He goes to the world of Vâyu (Kaush. I. 3), Vâyu is mentioned without any determinant, while in another passage a determinative occurs, where it is said (Brih. V. 10, 1): When the person goes away from this world, he comes to the wind. Then the wind makes room for him, like the hole of a wheel, and through it be mounts higher, he comes to the sun. Therefore from the determination, showing the priority of Vâyu before the sun, Vâyu is to be inserted between the year and the sun.
Why then, as there is a determination, showing his following after light, is not Vâyu inserted after light? Because we see that there is no determination here. But was there not a text quoted (Kaush. I. 3): Having reached the path of the gods, he comes to the world of Agni, to the world of Vâyu. Yes, but here the sooner and later only is enunciated, but there is not a word said about direct succession. A simple statement of facts is here made, in saying that he goes to this and to that, but in the other text a regular succession is perceived, when it is said, that after having mounted on high through an opening as large as the wheel of a chariot, supplied by Vâyu, he approaches the sun. Hence it is well said in the Sûtra, on account of the presence and absence of determinants.
The Vâgasaneyins (Brih. VI. 2, 15), however, say that he proceeds from the months to the world of the gods, and from the world of the gods to the sun. Here, in order to maintain the continuity with the sun, he would have to go from the world of the gods to Vâyu. And when the Sûtra says, from the year to Vâyu, this was done on account of the text in the Khândogya. As between the Vâgasaneyaka and the Khândogya, the world of the gods is absent in the one, the year in the other. As both texts have to be accepted, the two have to be combined, and then on account of the connection with the months, the distinction has to be made that the year comes first, the world of the gods last. (1) Year (Khând.), (2) World of gods (Brih.), (3) World of Vâyu (Kaush.), (4) Sun (Khând.).
Above the lightning Varuna, on account of the connection.
Saṅkara explains: When it is said (Khând. V.10, 2): From the sun to the moon, from the moon to lightning, Varuna is brought in so that above that lightning he goes to the world of Varuna. For there is a connection between lightning and Varuna, there being a Brâhmana which says: When the broad lightnings dance forth from the belly of the cloud with the sound of deep thunder, the water falls down, it lightens, it thunders, and it will rain. But the lord of water is Varuna according to Sruti and Smriti. And above Varuna follow Indra and Pragâpati, because there is no other place for them, and according to the meaning of the text. Also Varuna, &c., should be inserted at the end, because they are additional, and because no special place is assigned to them. As to the lightning, it is the last on the road that begins with light.
They are conductors, because this is indicated.
Saṅkara explains: With regard to those beginning with light there is a doubt, whether they are signs of the road, or places of enjoyment, or leaders of travellers. It is supposed at first that light and the rest are signs, because the information has this form. For as in the world a man wishing to go to a village or a town is told, Go from hence to that hill, then thou wilt come to a fig-tree, then to a river, then to a village, then to the town, thus he says here also, From light to day, from day to the waxing half of the moon. Or it is supposed that they are meant for places of enjoyment. For he connects Agni and the rest with the word loka (world), as when he says, he comes to the world of Agni. And world is used for places of enjoyment of living beings, as when they say, the world of men, the world of the Fathers, the world of the gods. And there is also a Brâhmana which says (Sat. Br. X. 2, 6, 8): They remain fixed in the worlds which consist of day and night. Therefore light and the rest are not conductors. Besides, they cannot be conductors, because they are without intelligence. For in this world intelligent men are appointed by the king to conduct those whom they have to conduct over difficult roads.
In answer to all this we say: After all, they are meant for conductors, because this is clearly indicated. For we read: From the moon to the lightning; there a person not being a man, leads them to Brahman, and this shows clearly their conductorship. If you think that according to the rule that a sentence says no more than what it says, this sentence, being restricted to its own object (the person, not being a man), falls to the ground, we say No, for the predicate (amânavah) is only intended to exclude his supposed humanity. Only if with regard to light, &c., personal conductors are admitted, and these human, is it right, that in order to exclude this (humanity), there should be the attribute, amânava, not being a man.
If it is objected that a mere indication is not sufficient, because there is no proof, we say there is no fault in this.
Because as both are bewildered, this is right.
Saṅkara explains: Those who go on the road beginning with light, as they are without a body, and as all their organs are wrapt up, are not independent, and the light, &c., as they are without intelligence, are likewise not independent. Hence it follows that the individual intelligent deities who represent light and the rest, have been appointed to the conductorship. For in this world also drunken or fainting people whose sense-organs are wrapt up, follow a road as commanded by others. Again, light and the rest cannot be taken for mere signs of the road, because they are not always there. For a man who dies in the night, cannot come to the actual manifestation of the day. For there is no waiting, as we said before. But as the nature of the gods is eternal, this objection does not apply to them. And it is quite right to call the gods light and all the rest, because they represent light and the rest. And the expression from light to day, &c., is not objectionable if the sense of conductorship is adopted, for it means, through the light, as cause, they come to the day, through the day, as cause, to the waxing half of the moon. And such an instruction is seen also in the case of conductors as known in the world, for they say, Go hence to Balavarman, thence to Gayasimha, thence to Krishnagupta. Besides in the beginning, when it is said they go to the light, a relation only is expressed, not a special relation; at the end, however, when it is said, he leads them to Brahman, a special relation is expressed, that between conducted and conductor. Therefore this is accepted for the beginning also. And as the organs of the wanderers are wrapt up together, there is no chance of their enjoying anything, though the word world (loka) may be applied to wanderers also who do not enjoy anything, because the worlds may be places of enjoyment for others who dwell there. Therefore we must understand that he who has reached the world of Agni is conducted by Agni, and he who has reached the world belonging to Vâyu, by Vâyu. But how, if we adopt this view that they are conductors, can this apply to Varuna and the rest? For above the lightning Varuna and the rest were inserted, and after the lightning till the obtainment of Brahman the leadership of the person who is not a man, has been revealed. This objection is answered by
THE SIXTH SÛTRA.
From thence by him who belongs to the lightning, because the Veda says so.
aṅkara explains: It must be understood that from thence, that is, after they have come to the lightning, they go to the world of Brahman, having been conducted across the worlds of Varun
a, &c., by the person who is not a man, and who follows immediately after the lightning. That he conducts them is revealed by the words, When they have reached the place of lightning, a person, not a man20
, leads them to the world of Brahman (Bri
h. VI. 2, 15). But Varun
a and the rest, it must be understood, are showing their kindness either by not hindering, or by assisting him. Therefore it is well said that light and the rest are the gods who act as conductors.
These extracts from Saṅkara's commentary on the Vedânta-sûtras, difficult to follow as they are, may serve to give you some idea how almost impossible it is to reduce the component parts of ancient sacred literature to a consistent system, and how the Vedic apologists endeavoured vainly to remove contradictions, and to bring each passage into harmony with all the rest. With us this difficulty does not exist, at least not to the same degree. We have learnt that sacred books, like all other books, have a history, that they contain the thoughts of different men and different ages, and that instead of trying to harmonise statements which vary from each other, nay which even contradict each other, we should simply accept them and see in them the strongest proof of the historical origin and genuine character of these books. Brâhmanic theologians, however, after once having framed to themselves an artificial conception of revelation, could not shake off the fetters which they had forged themselves, and had therefore to adopt the most artificial contrivances in order to prove that there was no variance, and no contradiction between any of the statements contained in the Veda. As they were convinced that every word of their Sruti came direct from the deity, they concluded that it must be their own fault, if they could not discover the harmony of discordant utterances.
Independent Statements in the Mantras.
It is strange, however, to observe that while so great an effort is made to bring all the passages which occur in the Upanishads into order and harmony, hardly any attempt has been made to reconcile the statements of the Upanishads with passages in the hymns which allude to the fate of the soul after death. These passages are by no means in harmony with the passages in the Upanishads, nor are they always in harmony with themselves. They are simply the various expressions of the hopes and fears of individual poets, and free, as yet, from the elaborate details concerning the journey to the Fathers, to the gods, and to Brahman with which the Upanishads abound.
If we examine the hymns of the Rig-veda we find there the simple belief that those who have led a good life go with a new and perfect body to the Fathers in the realm of Yama; Yama being originally a representative of the setting sun21
, the first immortal, and afterwards the first mortal, who entered the blessed abode beyond the West. Thus in a hymn used at the funeral, we read, Rv. X. 14, 722
Go forth, go forth on those ancient paths on which our forefathers departed. Thou shalt see the two kings delighting in Svadhâ (libation), Yama and the god Varuna.
Come together with the Fathers, and with Yama in the highest heaven, as the fulfilment of all desires. Having left all sin, go home again, and radiant in thy body, come together with them.
Yama is never called the first of mortals except in the Atharva-veda23
. In the Rig-veda we can still clearly perceive his divine character, and its physical substratum, the setting sun. Thus we read X. 14, 2:
Yama was the first to find the path for us, a pasture that can never be taken from us, whither our fathers have travelled formerly, being born there, each according to his ways.
That path of the departed (prapatha) is conceived as dangerous, and Pûshan's protection is implored on it (Rv. X. 17, 4). In one place a boat is spoken of for crossing a river (X. 63, 10), two dogs also are mentioned which the departed has to pass. Another verse introduces an entirely new thought. There (Rv. X. 16, 3) we read:
May the eye go to the sun, the breath to the wind; go to the sky and the earth, as is right, or go to the waters, if it is good for thee there, rest in the plants.
It has been supposed that some of the Vedic poets placed the abode of the blessed not in the West but in the East, but that depends simply on the right interpretation of one passage, Rv. I. 115, 1, 2. Here a sunrise is described, The bright face of the gods has risen, the eye of Mitra, Varuna, Agni; it filled heaven and earth and the air, the sun is the self of all that moves and stands;
The sun goes from behind towards the Dawn, as a man follows a woman, in the place where pious people prolong the generations from happiness to happiness.
This last line has been translated in various ways, but the general idea has always been that the pious people are here as elsewhere meant for the departed24
. There is, however, no necessity for this interpretation. I see in these words an idea often expressed in the Veda, that the pious worshippers prolong their lives or their progeny by offering sacrifices to the gods in the morning, the morning-sun being the symbol of renewal and prolonged life. Anyhow, the abode of Yama and of the departed is near the setting, not near the rising of the sun.
The abode of the departed, however, is by no means described as dark or dreary. At all events when Soma, the moon, is implored to grant immortality, we read (IX. 113, 7):
Where there is imperishable light, in the world where the sun is placed, in that immortal, eternal world place me, O Soma!
Where Vaivasvata (Yama) is king, where there is the descent (or the interior) of heaven, where the ever-flowing waters are, there make me immortal, O Soma!
Where one moves as one listeth, in the third light, the third heaven of heaven, where every place is full of light, there make me immortal, O Soma!
Where there are all wishes and desires, where the red sun culminates, where there are offerings and enjoyment, there make me immortal, O Soma!
Where there are delights and pleasures, where joys and enjoyments dwell, where the wishes of the heart are fulfilled, there make me immortal, O Soma!
It does not follow, however, that the abode of the departed to which they are led by Soma, is always conceived in exactly the same manner. The poetic fancy of the Vedic poets is still very free. Thus we read in another hymn (I. 24, 1, 2) that Agni, the first among the immortal gods, is to restore man to Aditi (the infinite), where the son may see his father and mother again. In another hymn (X. 15) the departed are actually divided into different classes, as dwelling either in the air, or on the earth, and in the villages. Dîrghatamas (I. 154, 5) speaks of the beloved place of Vishnu, where pious men rejoice, as the abode of the blessed. This place of Vishnu would be the place where the sun culminates, not where it sets. Another poet (X. 135 1) speaks of a beautiful tree, where Yama is drinking with the gods. In the Atharva-veda we get still more details. There we read of milk-cows, soft winds, cooling rain, cakes of ghee, rivers running with milk and honey, and a large number of women, all meant for the enjoyment of the departed.
It seems very strange that not one of these statements regarding the fate of the soul after death which are contained in the hymns of the Rig-veda, is discussed in the Vedânta-sûtras. No effort is made to bring them into harmony with the teaching of the Upanishads. The same applies to many passages occurring in the Brâhmanas, though they can claim the character of Sruti or revelation with the same right as the Upanishads, nay, from an historical point of view with even a better right. This is a point which native Vedântists should take into consideration, before they represent the Vedanta philosophy as founded on Sruti or revelation in the general sense of that word.
Mythological Language misunderstood.
Another weak point in the authors of the Vedânta-sûtras seems to me their inability to understand that in the early periods of language it is impossible to express any thought except metaphorically, hieroglyphically, or, what is the same, mythologically. Ancient sages think in images rather than in concepts. With us these images have faded, so as to leave nothing behind but the solid kernel. Thus when we speak of approaching or drawing near to God, we do no longer think of miles of road which we have to traverse, or of bridges and lakes which we have to cross. Nor when we speak of a throne of God do we allow ourselves to picture a royal throne with legs and supports and canopies. But with the ancient speakers it was different. Their thoughts were not yet free of the imagery of language. Their approach to God could only be represented as a long journey along steep roads and narrow bridges, and the throne of God or Brahman was graphically described as golden, and as covered with precious shawls and cushions. We must say, however, to the credit of the poets of the Upanishads that they soon began to correct themselves. They tell us that the throne of Brahman is not a golden throne, but is meant for intelligence, while its coverings represent the sacred scriptures or the Vedas. In the same way a river which the soul in its journey to Brahman has to cross is called Vigarâ, that is, the Age-less; a man who has crossed it, casts off old age, and never grows old again. He is supposed to have shaken off his good and evil deeds, and to leave the benefit of the former to those among his relatives on earth who were dear to him, while his evil deeds fall to the share of his unbeloved relations. A lake again which bars the way to Brahman is called Âra, and this name is supposed to be derived from Ari, enemy, these enemies being the passions and attachments of the heart, all of which must be left behind before an entrance can be found into the city of God, while those who do not know the truth, are believed to be drowned in that lake.
Even at present there are few, if any, among the most enlightened students of Vedic literature in India, who would admit the possibility of an historical growth with regard to the Veda, and would not prefer the most artificial interpretations to the frank admission that, like other sacred books, the Veda also owes its origin to different localities, to different ages, and to different minds.
Unless we learn to understand this metaphorical or hieroglyphic language of the ancient world, we shall look upon the Upanishads and on most of the Sacred Books of the East as mere childish twaddle; but if we can see through the veil, we shall discover behind it, not indeed, as many imagine, profound mysteries or esoteric wisdom, but at all events intelligent and intelligible efforts in an honest search after truth.
We must not imagine, however, that we can always reach the original intention of mythological phraseology, nor does it follow that the interpretation accepted by Indian commentators is always the right one. On the contrary, these native interpretations, by the very authority which naturally might seem to belong to them, are often misleading, and we must try to keep ourselves, as much as possible, independent of them.
In the circumstantial accounts, for instance, which I read to you from some of the Upanishads as to the return of the soul to Brahman, the soul rising with the smoke of the funeral pile and reaching the night, and then the waning half of the moon, and then the six months during which the sun travels to the South, and then only arriving in the world of the Fathers, we find it difficult, if not impossible, to connect any definite thoughts with these wanderings of the soul. What can be meant by the six months during which the sun travels to the South or to the North? It might seem to imply that the soul has to tarry for six months while the sun is moving South, before it can hope to reach the world of the Fathers and the Moon. But this is by no means the interpretation of native commentators. They are impressed with a passage where it is said that the soul travels onward with the quickness of thought, and they therefore would object to admit anything like delay in the soul's joining the northern or the southern progress of the sun. They may be right in this, but they leave the difficulty of the six months as a station in the soul39;s journey unexplained. I can only produce one parallel that may perhaps throw some light on this point.
It occurs in Porphyrius, De Antro Nympharum. This cave of the nymphs, mentioned by Homer (Odyss. XIII. 104), was taken by Porphyrius and other philosophers, such as Numenius and Cronius, as a symbol of the earth with its two doors,
δὐω δϵ́ τϵ́ οἱ θύραι ϵἰσίν· αἱ μϵ̀ν πρὸς Βορϵ́αο, καταιβαταὶ ἀνθρώποισιν, αἱ δ̕ αὐ̑ πρὸς Νότου ϵἰσὶ θϵώτϵρι· οὐδϵ́ τι κϵίνῃ ἄνδρϵς ϵ̓σϵ́ρχονται, ἀλλ᾽ ἀθανάτων ὁδός ϵ̓στιν.
These doors of the cave have been explained as the gates leading from and to the earth. Thus Porphyrius says that there are two extremities in the heavens, viz. the winter solstice, than which no part is nearer to the South, and the summer solstice which is situated next to the North. But the summer tropic, that is the solstitial circle, is in Cancer, and the winter tropic in Capricorn. And since Cancer is the nearest to the earth, it is deservedly attributed to the Moon, which is itself proximate to the earth. But since the southern pole by its greatest distance is inconspicuous to us, Capricorn is ascribed to Saturn, who is the highest and most remote of all the planets
Theologians admitted therefore two gates, Cancer and Capricorn, and Plato also meant these by what he calls the two mouths. Of these they affirm that Cancer is the gate through which souls descend, but Capricorn that through which they ascend [and exchange a material for a divine condition of being]. And indeed the gates of the cave which look to the South are with great propriety said to he pervious to the descent of men: but the northern gates are not the avenues of the gods, but of souls ascending to the gods. On this account the poet does not say it is the passage of the gods, but of immortals, which appellation is also common to our souls, which by themselves or by their essence are immortal25
The idea that the place to which the sun returns, whether in its northward or southward progress, is a door by which the souls may ascend to heaven, is at least conceivable, quite as much as the idea which Macrobius in the twelfth chapter of his comment on Scipio's dream ascribes to Pythagoras, who, as he tells us, thought that the empire of Pluto began downwards with the Milky Way, because souls falling from thence appear already to have receded from the gods.
It should also be stated, as Mr. Bal Gangadhar Tilak in his Researches into the antiquity of the Vedas remarks, that the summer solstice which begins the southern passage of the sun is called the ayana of the Pitris, and that the first month or fortnight in this ayana of the Pitris is pre-eminently the month or the fortnight of the Pitris or the Fravashis or the Manes. The Hindus, he adds, up to this day regard the dark half of Bhâdrapada as the fortnight of the Manes, and likewise the Parsis whose year commenced with the summer solstice, the first month of the year being dedicated to the Manes. (Geiger, Civilization of East Iranians, vol. i. p. 153.)
He goes still further and calls attention to the fact that, when the vernal equinox was in Orion, that constellation, together with the Milky Way and Canis, formed, so to speak, the boundary of heaven and hell, the Devaloka and Yamaloka which, in Vedic works, mean the hemispheres North and South of the equator. This would also explain, he thinks, why heaven and hell are separated by a river according to the Parsic, the Greek, and the Indian traditions, and why the four-eyed or three-headed dogs came to be at the gates of hell to guard the way to Yama's regions, these being the constellations of Canis Major and Minor. He undertakes to explain several more of the ancient Vedic traditions by a reference to these constellations, but he has hardly proved that these constellations and their names as Canis Major and Minor were known so early as the time of the poets of the Rig-veda.
Whatever may be uncertain in these speculations, so much seems clear, that originally the place where the sun turned on its northern course was conceived as the place where the soul might approach the world of the Fathers.
But it is the fate that awaits the soul while in the moon that is most difficult to understand. For here in the moon we are told the departed become the food of the gods. The literal meaning is, they are eaten by the gods, but the commentators warn us not to take eating in its literal sense, but in the more general sense, of assimilating or enjoying or loving. The departed, they say, are not eaten by the Devas by morsels, but what is meant is that they form the delight of the gods, as food forms the delight of men. Nay, one commentator goes still further, and says. If it is said that women are loved by men, they are in being loved loving themselves. Thus these souls also, being loved by the gods or Devas love the gods in return, and are happy rejoicing with the Devas. This seems at first a rational explanation, and we know that in the language of the New Testament also eating and drinking or feeding on must be understood in certain well-known passages in the sense of receiving, enjoying, or loving.
Still this does not explain the whole of this legend, and it is clear that some other mythological conceptions of the moon must have influenced the thoughts of the poets of the Upanishads. It was evidently a familiar idea with the common people in ancient India that the moon was the source of life and immortality, and that it consisted of something like the Greek nectar which gave immortality to the gods. The waning of the moon was ascribed to this consumption of Soma (moon-juice) by the gods, while its waxing was accounted for by the entrance of the departed spirits into the moon, the recognised abode of the Fathers. If then after the moon was full again, the gods were supposed to feed on it once more, it is conceivable that the gods should be supposed to be feeding on the souls of the departed that had entered into the moon26
. I do not mean to say that this explanation is certain, nor is it hinted at by the commentators of the Upanishads, but it is at all events coherent and intelligible, which is more than can be said of S
It is not impossible, however, that some older mythological conceptions of the moon may have influenced the thoughts of the poets of the Upanishads. It is not in India only that the moon was looked upon as a symbol of life and immortality. When people counted by moons, the moon became naturally the source and giver of life. People asked for more moons, they lived so many moons, so that moon and life became almost synonymous. Next, as to the idea of immortal life after death, this was seen symbolised in the waning or dying of the moon and in the resurrection of the new moon. Traces of this have been discovered even among the lowest races, such as the Hottentots, who have a well-known legend of the moon sending a messenger to men to tell them, As I die and dying live, so shall ye also die and dying live27
By combining these two conceptions, people were easily led on to the idea that as the departed went to the moon, and as the moon increased and decreased, they also increased and decreased with the moon. Then again, there was in India another tradition that the moon, the giver of rain and fertility, constituted the favourite food of the gods, so that it required no more than a combination of these traditions to arrive at the saying that, during the waning half, the gods fed on the departed who were dwelling in the moon. Some of these thoughts are expressed in the Rv. X. 85, 19:
Návah navah bhavati gấyamâtnah Áhnâm ketúh ushásâm eti áram Bhâgám devébhyah ví dadhàti â-yán Prá kandrámâh tirate dîrghám ấyuh.
He (the moon) becomes new and new when born; the light of days, he goes at the head of the dawns; when he arrives, he distributes to the gods their share, the moon prolongs a long life.
Here it is clear that the moon is considered as the source and giver of life, particularly of a long life, while the share which he distributes to the gods may mean either the sacrificial share for each god, which is determined by the moon, as the regulator of seasons and sacrifices, or the rain as the support of life, which is supposed to come from the moon and to be almost synonymous with it.
I do not maintain that all these ideas were clearly present to the minds of the authors of the Upanishads. I only suggest that they formed the component elements of that legendary language in which they expressed their doctrines, trusting that they would be understood by the people to whom their doctrines were addressed.
We now come to a new phase of half-legendary, half-philosophical speculation.
The Devayâna or Path of the Gods.
The souls of those who form the delight of the gods, or who enjoy the company of the gods and Fathers while dwelling in the moon, are said to have reached this blessedness by their pious works, by sacrifice, charity, and austerity, not by real knowledge. Hence, when they have enjoyed the full reward of their good works they are supposed to return again to this life, while those who have acquired true knowledge, or what we should call true faith, do not return, but press forward till they reach Brahman, the Supreme God. This they achieve by the Devayâna or the Path of the Gods, as distinct from the Pitriyâna, or the Path of the Fathers. For those who have discovered this Path of the gods that leads to Brahman, and which can be discovered by knowledge only, there, is no return, that is to say, they are not born again. To be born again and to enter once more into the vortex of cosmic existence is to the authors of the Upanishads the greatest misfortune that can possibly be conceived. The chief object of their philosophy is therefore how to escape from this cosmic vortex, how to avoid being born again and again.
It seems to me that, if we take all this into account, we can clearly distinguish three successive stages in the thoughts which the authors of the Upanishads formed to themselves as to the fate of the soul after death. In the Upanishads themselves these different theories stand side by side. No attempt is made to harmonise them, till we come to the Vedânta philosophers, who looked upon all that is found in the Veda as one complete revelation. But if we may claim the liberty of historical criticism, or rather of historical interpretation, we should ascribe the simple belief in the so-called Pitriyâna, the path of the Fathers, and the journey of the soul to the moon, as the home of the Fathers, to the earliest period. It is no more than a popular belief, which we find elsewhere also, that the soul will go where the Fathers went, and that their abode is, not in the sun, but in the moon, the luminary of the dark night.
Then came the new idea that this happy life with the gods and the Fathers in the moon was the reward for good works on earth, and that the reward for these good works must after a time become exhausted. What then? If in the meantime the concept of One Supreme God, of an objective Brahman, had been gained, and if it had been perceived that true blessedness and immortality consisted, not in such half-earthly enjoyments as were in store for the departed in the moon, and must after a time come to an end, but in an approach to and an approximative knowledge of the Supreme Being, the conclusion followed by itself that there must be another path besides that of the Fathers leading to the moon, namely the path of the gods (Devayâna), leading through different worlds of the gods, to the throne of Brahman or the Supreme God. That road was open to all who had gained a true knowledge of Brahman, and even those who for a time had enjoyed the reward of their good works in the moon might look forward after having passed through repeated existences to being born once more as human beings, gaining in the end a true knowledge of the One Supreme God, and then proceeding on the path of the gods to the throne of the Supreme Deity, whether they call it Brahman, Hiranyagarbha, or any other name, from whence there is no return.
We shall see, however, that even this was not final, but that there followed afterward a third phase of thought, in which even this approach to the throne of God was rejected as unsatisfactory. But before we proceed to consider this, we have still to dwell for a few moments on what was supposed to be the fate of the souls, when they had to leave the moon and to enter on a new course of being born and reborn, till at last they gained complete freedom from cosmic existence through a truer knowledge of God.
This is a curious and important chapter, because we can clearly discover in it the first beginnings of a belief in Metempsychosis, or the transmigration of souls. The ancients were convinced that this belief came from the East, and they imagined that Pythagoras and others could have got their belief in Metempsychosis from India only. We saw how little foundation there was for this, and it can easily be shown that a belief in the transmigration of souls sprang up in other countries also, which could not possibly have been touched by the rays of Indian or Greek philosophy. But it is interesting nevertheless to watch the first beginnings of that belief in India, because we have here to deal with facts, and not with mere theories, such as have been started by recent students of Anthropology as to the origin of Metempsychosis. They consider that a belief in the migration of souls, particularly the migration of human souls into animal bodies, has something to do with what is called Animism. Now Animism is a very useful word, if only it is properly defined. It is a translation of the German Beseelung, and if it is used simply as a comprehensive term for all attempts to conceive inanimate objects as animate subjects, nothing can be said against it. There is, however, a very common mistake which should be carefully guarded against. When travellers meet with tribes that speak of trees or stones as sentient beings, and attribute to them many things which of right belong to animate or human beings only, we are told that it is a case of Animism. No doubt, it is. But is not Animism in this case simply another name for the belief that certain inanimate objects are animate? It may sound more learned, but of course, the name explains nothing. What we want to know is how human beings, themselves animate, could be so mistaken as to treat inanimate things as animate. Even animals seldom mistake a lifeless thing for a living thing. I believe that this tendency of the human mind to attribute life and soul to lifeless and soulless objects, can be and has been accounted for by a more general tendency, nay, by what may almost be called a necessity under which the human mind is laid by human language, which cannot form names of any objects except by means of roots, all of which are expressive of acts. It was impossible to name and therefore to conceive the sun or the moon, or a tree or even a stone, except as doers of something, which something is expressed in one of those four or five hundred roots that formed the capital of language. This, which has been called Energism, is the highest generalisation, and comprehends, and at the same time accounts for Animism, Personification, Anthropomorphism, Spiritism, and several other isms.
But the question now before us is this, Did a belief in Transmigration of souls have anything to do with Animism, or that general belief that not only animals have souls like men, but that inanimate objects also may be inhabited by souls? for it must be remembered that from the very first Metempsychosis meant the migration of the souls, not only into animals, but likewise into plants.
Whatever may have been the origin of a belief in Metempsychosis in other parts of the world, in India, at all events so far as we may judge by the Upanishads, this belief had nothing to do, with the ordinary Animism. Its deepest, source seems to have been purely ethical. The very reason why the soul, after having dwelt for some time in the world of the Fathers, had to be born again was, if you remember, that the stock of its good works had been exhausted. Let us hear then what the ancient Hindus thought would happen to the soul after its descent from the moon. Here we must be prepared again for a great deal of childish twaddle; but you know that philosophers, to say nothing of fond fathers and grandfathers, are able to discover a great deal of wisdom even in childish twaddle. The soul, we read in the Upanishads, returns through ether or through space, and then descends to the earth in the form of rain. On earth something that has thus been carried down in the rain, becomes changed into food. This food, it is said, is offered in a new altar-fire, namely in man, and thence born of a woman, that is to say, man eats the food and with it the germs of a new life. These germs are invisible, but according to the Upanishads, not the less real.
Reality of Invisible Things.
This belief in invisible realities is fully recognised in the Upanishads. It applied not only to the invisible agents in nature, their Devas or gods, whom they carefully distinguished from their visible manifestations. They believed in a visible Agni or fire who performed the sacrifice, but they carefully distinguished him from the invisible and divine Agni who was hidden in the dawn, in the morn, nay even in the two fire-sticks, unseen by any human eye, but ready to appear, when the priests had properly rubbed the fire-sticks. The same belief gave them their clear concept of the soul, never to be seen or to be touched, yet more real to them than anything else. Lastly their belief in something invisible that constituted the life of every part of nature, meets us on every page of the Upanishads. Thus we read in the Khândogya-Upanishad a dialogue between a son and his father, who wants to open the eyes of his son as to the reality of the Unseen or the Infinite in nature, which is also the Unseen and Infinite in man, which is in fact both Brahman and Âtman, the Self:
The father said: My son, fetch me a fruit of the fig-tree.
The son replied: Here is one, sir.
Break it, said the father.
The son replied: It is broken, sir.
The father: What do you see there?
The son: These seeds, almost infinitesimal.
The father: Break one of them.
The son: It is broken, sir.
The father: What do you see there?
The son: Not anything, sir.
The father: My son, that subtle essence, which you do not see there, of that very essence this great fig-tree exists.
Believe it, my son. That which is the invisible, subtle essence, in it all that exists, has its self. It is the True, it is the Self, and thou, O son, art it.
If people have once arrived at this belief in subtle, invisible germs, their belief in the germs of living souls descending in rain and being changed into grains of corn, and being, when eaten, changed into seed, and at last being born of a mother, whatever we, as biologists, may think of it, is not quite so unmeaning metaphysically as it seems at first sight. But while in this case we have only a transmigration of the human soul across rain and food into a new human body, we find in another passage (Khândogya V. 10, 3) far more minute details. Here we are told that the rain which carries the soul back to earth is taken up into rice, barley, herbs of every kind, trees, sesamum, or beans. It is very difficult to escape from these vegetable dwellings, and whoever the persons may be that eat this food and afterwards beget offspring, the germ of the soul, becomes like unto them. And yet we are told that everything is not left to accident, but that those whose conduct has been good will quickly attain a good birth in the family of Brâhmanas or Kshatriyas or Vaisyas, while those whose conduct has been bad, will quickly attain an evil birth in the family of a Kandâla, an outcast, or,and here we come for the first time on the idea of a human soul migrating into the bodies of animals,he will become a dog or a hog. I think we can clearly see that this belief in a human soul being reborn as an outcast, or as a dog or a hog, contains what I called an ethical element. This is very important, at least as far as an explanation of the idea of metempsychosis in India is concerned. Whatever the influence of Animism may have been in other countries in suggesting a belief in metempsychosis, in India it was clearly due to a sense of moral justice. As a man, guilty of low and beastly acts, might be told even in this life that he was an outcast, or that he was a dog or a hog, so the popular conscience of India, when it had once grasped the idea of the continued existence of the soul after death, would say in good earnest that he would hereafter be an outcast or a dog or a hog. And after this idea of metempsychosis had once been started, it soon set the popular mind thinking on all the changes and chances that might happen to the soul in her strange wanderings. Thus we read that the soul may incur great dangers, because while the rain that falls from the moon (retodhâh) on the earth, fructifies and passes into rice, corn, and beans, and is eaten and then born as the offspring of the eater, some of the rain may fall into rivers and into the sea, and be swallowed by fishes and sea-monsters. After a time they will be dissolved in the sea, and after the sea-water has been drawn upwards by the clouds, it may fall down again on desert or dry land. Here it may be swallowed by snakes or deer, and they may be swallowed again by other animals, so that the round of existences, and even the risk of annihilation become endless. For some rain-drops may dry up altogether, or be absorbed by bodies that cannot be eaten. Nay, even if the rain has been absorbed and has become rice and corn, it may be eaten by children or by ascetics who have renounced married life, and then the chance of a new birth seems more distant than ever. Fortunately the soul, though it is conscious in its ascent, is supposed to be without consciousness in its descent through all these dangerous stages. The Brâhmans have always some quaint illustrations at hand. The soul is like a man, they say, who in climbing up a tree is quite conscious, but on falling headlong down a tree loses his consciousness. Well, in spite of all this folly or childish twaddle, there are nevertheless some great thoughts running through it all. First of all, there is the unhesitating belief that the soul does not die when the body dies; secondly, there is the firm conviction that there is a moral government of the world, and that the fate of the soul hereafter is determined by its life here on earth, to which was soon added as an inevitable corollary, that the fate of the soul here on earth, must have been determined by its acts of a former life. All these thoughts, particularly on their first spontaneous appearance, are full of meaning in the eyes of the student of religion, and there are few countries where we can study their spontaneous growth so well as in ancient India.
Absence of Hells.
This belief in metempsychosis accounts for the absence of hells as places of punishment, at least in the earlier phases of the Upanishads. A difference is made between souls that only pass through the manifold stages of animal and vegetable life in order to be born in the end as human beings, and those who are made to assume those intermediate forms of rice and corn and all the rest as a real punishment for evil deeds. The latter remain in that state till their evil deeds are completely expiated, and they have a real consciousness of their state of probation. But when their debts are paid and the results of their evil deeds are entirely exhausted, they have a new chance. They may assume a new body, like caterpillars when changed into butterflies. Even then the impressions of their former misdeeds remain, like dreams. Still in the end, by leading a virtuous life they may become men once more, and rise to the world of the Fathers in the moon. Here a distinction is made, though not very clearly, between those whom the moon sets free and those whom he showers down for a new birth. Those who can answer the moon well, and assert their identity with the moon, as the source of all things, are set free to enter the Svargaloka by the Path of the gods. Those who cannot, return to the earth, may in time gain true knowledge, and finally likewise reach the Path of the gods and the world of the Devas, the home of the lightnings, and the throne of Brahman. Some of the later Upanishads, particularly the Kaushîtaki-Upanishad, enter into far fuller details as to this last journey to the throne of Brahman. But, as is generally the case, though there may be some rational purpose in the general plan, the minor details become almost always artificial and unmeaning.
Now, however, when the soul has reached the world of the gods and the abode of Brahman, from whence there is no return to a new circle of cosmic existence, a stream of new ideas sets in, forming a higher phase philosophically, and probably a later phase historically, as compared with the Path of the Fathers and the Path of the Gods. We are introduced to a dialogue, similar to that between the soul and the moon, but now between the departed, standing before the throne of Brahman, and Brahman himself.
Brahman asks him: Who art thou?
And he is to answer in the following mysterious words:
I am like a season, and the child of the seasons, sprung from the womb of endless space, sprung from light. This light, the source of the year, which is the past, which is the present, which is all living things and all elements, is the Self. Thou art the Self, and what thou art, that am I.
The meaning of this answer is not quite clear. But it seems to mean that the departed when asked by Brahman what he is or what he knows himself to be, says that he is like a season28
, that is, like something that comes and goes, but that he is at the same time the child of space and time or of that light from which all time and all that exists in time and space proceeds. This universal source of all existence he calls the Self, and after proclaiming that Brahman before him is that Self, he finishes his confession of faith, by saying, What thou art, that am I.
In this passage, though we still perceive some traces of mythological thought, the prevailing spirit is clearly philosophical. In the approach of the soul to the throne of Brahman we can recognise the last results that can be reached by Physical and Anthropological Religion, as worked out by the Indian mind. In Brahman sitting on his throne we have still the merely objective or cosmic God, the highest point reached by Physical Religion; in the soul of the departed standing face to face with God, we see the last result of Anthropological Religion. We see there the human soul as a subject, still looking upon the Divine Soul as an object. But the next step, represented by the words, What thou art, that am I, opens a new vista of thought. The human soul, by the very fact that it has gained true knowledge of Brahman, knows that the soul also is Brahman, recovers its own Brahmahood, becomes in fact what it always has been, Brahman or the Universal Self. Knowledge, true knowledge, self-knowledge suffices for this, and there is, no longer any necessity of toilsome travellings, whether on the Path of the Fathers or on the Path of the Gods.
Transmigration as conceived in the Laws of Manu.
Before, however, we enter on a consideration of this highest flight of Indian philosophy, and try to discover to what phases of thought this similarity or rather this oneness with God, this Homoiosis or Henosis, corresponds in other religions, we have still to dwell for a short time on the later development of the theory of transmigration as we find it in the Laws of Manu and elsewhere, and as it is held to the present day by millions of people in India. These Laws of Manu are, of course, much later than the Upanishads. Though they contain ancient materials, they can hardly, in their present metrical form, be assigned to a much earlier date than about the fourth century A.D. In their original form they must have existed as Sûtras; in their present metrical form, they belong to the Sloka-period of Indian literature. There existed many similar collections of ancient laws and customs, composed both in Sûtras and afterwards in metre, but as the Laws of Manu, or, as they ought to be more correctly called, the Laws of the Mânavas, have acquired a decided pro-eminence in India, it is in them that we can best study the later development of the belief in metempsychosis.
As I said before, when the idea of the migration of the soul through various forms of animal and vegetable life had once been started, the temptation was great to carry it out in fuller detail. Whereas in the Upanishads we are only told that a man who has led an evil life, attains an evil birth, and may actually come to life again as a dog or a hog, Manu is able to tell us in far more minute detail what particular birth is assigned to any particular crime. Thus we read in V. 164, IX. 30, that a wife who has violated her duty towards her husband is born as a jackal. In another passage (VI. 63) we read of ten thousand millions of existences through which the soul passes after it has left this body. A Brâhmana, we are told (XI. 25), who has begged any property for a sacrifice, and does not use the whole of it for the sacrifice, but keeps some of it for himself, becomes for a hundred years a vulture or a crow. In the last book of Manu this subject is most fully treated. We read there, XII. 39:
I will briefly declare in due order what transmigrations in the whole world a man obtains through each of the three qualities. These qualities have been defined before (3537) as darkness, activity, and goodness.
The Three QualitiesDarkness, Activity, and Goodness.
Acts of darkness are those of which a man feels ashamed.
Acts of activity or selfishness are those by which a man hopes to gain profit or fame in the world, but of which he need not feel ashamed. They may be called selfish acts, but, from a moral point of view, they are indifferent.
Acts of goodness are when a man desires knowledge, with his whole heart, and his soul rejoices, and there is no sense of shame.
Manu then continues:
Those endowed with goodness reach the state of gods, those endowed with activity the state of men, and those endowed with darkness sink to the condition of beasts; this is the threefold course of transmigration. But know this threefold course of transmigration that depends on the three qualities to be again threefold, low, middling, and high, according to the particular nature of the acts and of the knowledge of each man.
The Nine Classes.
Immovable beings, insects both small and great, fishes, snakes, tortoises, cattle, and wild animals are the lowest condition to which the quality of darkness leads.
Elephants, horses, Sûdras, and despicable barbarians, lions, tigers, and boars are the middling states caused by the quality of darkness.
Kâranas (probably wandering minstrels and jugglers), Suparnas (bird-deities) and hypocrites, Râkshasas and Pisâkas (goblins) belong to the highest rank of conditions among those produced by darkness.
Ghallas, Mallas, Natas, men who subsist by despicable occupations and those addicted to gambling and drinking form the lowest order of conditions caused by activity.
Kings and Kshatriyas (noblemen), the domestic priests of kings, those who delight in the warfare of disputants constitute the middling rank of the states caused by activity.
The Gandharvas, Guhyakas, and the servants of the gods, likewise the Apsaras, belong to the highest rank of conditions produced by activity.
Hermits, ascetics, Brâhmanas, the crowds of the Vaimânika deities (spirits moving in mid-air on their vimânas, or chariots), the gods of the lunar mansions and the Daityas form the first and lowest rank of the existences caused by goodness.
Sacrificers, the sages, the gods, the Vedas, the heavenly lights, the years, the manes, and the Sâdhyas constitute the second order of existences caused by goodness.
The sages declare Brahmâ, the creators of the Universe, the law, the Great One, and the Undiscernible One to constitute the highest order of things produced by goodness.
Thus the result of the threefold action, the whole system of transmigrations which consists of three classes, each with three subdivisions, and which includes all created things, has been explained.
This systematic statement of the different stages of transmigration is obscure in some points, particularly when not only living beings, but heavenly lights, the years, and even the Veda are mentioned as the result of acts of goodness. We shall hereafter meet with something very similar in the Hierarchies of Proclus and of Dionysius the Areopagite. The place assigned to certain classes of men, gods, and demi-gods is curious and instructive, as showing the estimation in which each of them was held at the time.
I am afraid it was rather tedious to follow Manu through all the nine classes of beings through which the human soul may pass. Yet these nine classes of Manu acquire some interest, if we remember that Plato also gives us a similar scheme of nine classes into which the human soul may be reborn.
This coincidence in the number nine need not be more than accidental. A comparison, however, of these two lists (Enneads) is instructive, as showing the different estimation in which certain occupations were held in India and in Greece. In India the nine steps of the ladder of existences rise from the lowest animals to the world of human beings in their various occupations, then to the demons, to the Vedas, the heavenly lights, the years, the Fathers, and the gods, in their various spheres of action, and lastly to the creator of the world and to Brahman himself. In this we are often reminded not only of the nine classes of Plato, but likewise of the nine stages of the so-called heavenly Hierarchy, as we find them in Proclus, and in Dionysius the Areopagite. There also, the number is nine, nay the three triads are here, exactly as in India, subdivided each into three stages, and room is made as in India, not only for animate beings, whether men or angels, but likewise for inanimate, such as Thrones, Powers, and Dominions. Whether these coincidences are too great to be accepted as mere fortuitous coincidences, we shall be better able to judge when we come, to consider the writings of Dionysius the Areopagite, and their extraordinary influence both on the scholastic and the mystic, that is, the psychological theology of the Middle Ages.
Punishments of the Wicked.
Another important feature which marks the later date of Manu's Laws is his acquaintance not only with metempsychosis, but with punishments inflicted on the wicked in places which we must call hellsfor hells are a late invention in most religions. Thus we read (XII. 54), Those who have committed mortal sins (mahâpâtakas) having passed through a large number of years through dreadful hells, obtain after the expiration of that term of punishment, the following births:
The slayer of a Brâhmana enters the womb of a dog, a pig, a camel, a cow, a goat, a sheep, a deer, a bird, a Kandâla, and a Pukkasa.
Here we have clearly the idea of punishment in hell, apart from the punishment entailed by simply being born again as a low animal. And what is curious is that Yama, who at first was only conceived as the ruler among the departed, as a kind deity with whom the Pitris enjoyed themselves, is now mentioned as inflicting torments on the wicked (XII. 17), a part which he continues to act in the later literature of India.
In the hymns of the Rig-veda we find very little that could be compared to the later ideas of hell. Nor is there any reason to suppose, as both Roth and Weber seem to do, that the Vedic Indians had realised the idea of annihilation, and that they believed annihilation to be the proper punishment of the wicked. As they spoke of the abode of the blessed in very general terms as the realms of light, they speak of the wicked as being thrown or falling into karta, a pit (Rv. II. 29, 6; IX. 73, 89). They also speak of a deep place (padam gabhîram, IV. 5, 5) and of lower darkness (adharam tamah, X. 152, 4) as their abode.
There are some more passages in the Rig-veda which may refer to punishment after death. Thus we read (II. 29, 6), Protect us, O gods, from being devoured by the wolf, or from falling into the pit. And again (IX. 73, 89), The wise guardian of the law is not to be deceived; he has placed purifiers (conscience) in the heart; he knowing looks upon all things, and hurls the wicked and lawless into the pit.
In the Atharva-veda the description of the abode of the wicked becomes more and more minute. We read (II. 14, 3) of a house (gri
ha) for evil spirits, and even the modern name of Naraka for hell occurs in it. All this agrees with what we know from other sources of the chronological relation of Vedic hymns, Upanishads, and Manu's Laws. The Upanishads speak of a third path, besides the two paths that lead to the Fathers and to the Gods, and they say (Bri
h. Âr. VI. 2, 16): Those who do, not know these two paths become worms, birds and creeping things. We also read in some Upanishads, that there are unblessed or asurya worlds, covered with blind darkness whither fools go after death. The Brâhman
as are sometimes more explicit in their accounts of hell29
, and in one passage of the S
a (XI. 7, 2, 33), we actually find a mention of the weighing of the soul, a conception so well known from Egyptian tombs.
The more we advance, the fuller the details become about the two roads, the road leading to the Pitri
s and the road leading to the Devas. I shall here call your attention to one passage only in the Mahâbhârata which is highly important, because the two roads are here for the first time30
called Setus, or bridges (Anugîtâ, XX. p. 316), bridges of virtue or piety. It was generally supposed that the idea of a bridge connecting this world with the next was peculiar to Persia, where the famous K
bridge forms so prominent a feature in the ancient religion. But the relation between the Veda and the Avesta is so peculiar and so intimate, that we can hardly doubt that the belief in bridges between this world and the next was either borrowed directly by the Persians from the Vedic poets, or that it was inherited by both from their common ancestors. It is quite true that the same idea of a bridge between this and the next world occurs in other countries also, where a direct influence of Indian thought is out of the question, as, for instance, among some North-American Indians31
. But it is not a bridge of virtue or of judgment as in India and Persia. The idea of a bridge or a mere communication between this and the next world is in fact so natural that it may be called the easiest and probably the earliest solution of the problem with which, though from a higher point of view, we are occupied in this course of lectures, the relation between the natural and the supernatural. When people had once learnt to believe in a Beyond, they felt a gap between the here and the there, which the human mind could not brook, and which it tried, therefore, to bridge over, at first mythologically, and afterwards philosophically. The earliest, as yet purely mythological, attempt to connect the world of men and the world of the gods is the belief in a bridge called Bifröst, lit. trembling rest, such as we find it in Northern mythology. It was clearly intended originally for the rainbow. We are told that it was created by the gods, and was called the bridge of the Ases or the gods, the As-brû. It had three colours, and was supposed to be very strong. But however strong it was, it is believed that it will break at the end of the world, when the sons of Muspel come to ride across it. The Ases or gods ride every day across that bridge to their judgment seat near the well of Urd. It has a watchman also, who is called Heimdall.
This is a purely mythological expedient to connect heaven and earth, for which Physical Religion chose very naturally the emblem of the rainbow.
In India and Persia, however, the case is different. First of all the bridge there is not taken from anything in nature. It is rather an ethical postulate. There must be a way, they argued, on which the soul can approach the deity or by which it can be kept away from the deity,hence they imagined that there was such a way. That way in India was the Road of the Fathers and afterwards the Road of the Gods. But it is very important to observe that in India also this road (yâna) was called setu, bridge, though it had not yet received a proper name. In the Veda, Rv. I. 38, 5, the path of Yams is mentioned, which is really the same as the Road of the Fathers, for Yama was originally the ruler of the Fathers. If therefore the poets say, Mâ vo garitâ pathâ Yamasya gâd upa, May your worshipper not go on the path of Yama, they simply mean, may he not yet die. When there was once a bridge, a river also would soon be imagined which the bridge was to cross. Such a river, though it does not occur in the hymns, occurs in the Brâhmanas under the name of Vaitaranî, which simply means what leads on or what has to be crossed. It is probably but another name for the river Vigarâ, the ageless, which, as we saw in the Upanishads, the departed had to pass.
You may remember that at the funeral ceremonies of the Vedic Indians a cow (Anustaranî) had to be sacrificed. This cow was supposed to carry the departed across the Vaitaranî river, and later it became the custom in India, and, I am told, it is so now, to make a dying man lay hold of the tail of a cow, or, as among the Todas, of the horns of a buffalo. But though in India the belief in a Road of the Fathers and a Road of the Gods seems to have arisen from a moral conviction that there must be such a path to lead the departed, whether as a reward or as a punishment, to the world of the Fathers, and to the world of the Gods, that path was identified in India also not only with the rainbow, but likewise, as Professor Kuhn has tried to show (K. Z., ii. p. 318), with the Milky Way. In the Vishnu-purâna (p. 227) the Devayâna is placed north of Taurus and Aries, and south of the Great Bear, which is the exact situation of the starting-point of the Milky Way. Professor Kuhn has pointed out a most curious coincidence. Let us remember that in order to reach the Devayâna, supposed to be the Milky Way, the departed had to be carried across the Vaitaranî river by a cow. Is it not strange that in the North of Germany to the present day the Milky Way should be called Kaupat, that is, cow-path, and that the Slavonians should call it Mavra or Mavriza, which means a black speckled cow. Nay, in the poem of Tundalus (ed. Hahn, pp. 4050), we read that the soul has to drive a stolen cow across that bridge. Such coincidences are very startling. One hardly knows how to account for them. Of course, they may be due to accident, but, if not, what an extraordinary pertinacity would they show even in the folklore of the Aryan nations.
However, though in some places the Devayâna has been identified with the Milky Way, in others and more ancient passages it was clearly conceived as the rainbow, as when we read in the Brihad-âranyaka Upanishad IV. 4, 8:
The small, old path stretching far away (vitarah or vitarah) has been found by me. On it, sages who know Brahman move on to the Svargaloka (heaven), and thence higher, as entirely free.
On that path they say that there is white and blue, yellow, green, and red; that path was found by Brahman, and on it goes whoever knows Brahman, and who has done good, and obtained splendour. We have here the five colours of the rainbow, while the Bifröst rainbow had only three.
The idea that the wicked cannot find the path of the Fathers or the Gods is not entirely absent in the Upanishads. For we read (Brih. Âr. IV. 4, 10):
All who worship what is not knowledge, enter into blind darkness; and again, There are indeed those unblessed worlds covered with blind darkness. Men who are ignorant, not enlightened, go after death to these worlds. Nay, in the Satapatha Brâhmana I. 9, 3, 2, we actually read of flames on both sides of the path which burn the wicked, but do not touch the pure soul.
The same path leads either to the Gods or to the Fathers. On both sides two flames are ever burning: they scorch him who deserves to be scorched, and allow him to pass who deserves to pass.
There is also a line quoted in the Nirukta which may refer to this path, where women say:
neg gihmâyantyo narakam patâma.
May we not walk crooked and fall into hell.
It is, however, in the ancient religion of Persia that this bridge becomes most prominent. It has there received the name of Kinvat, which can only mean the searching, the revenging, the punishing bridge, ki being connected with Greek τίω τίνω, and τίσις.
Of this bridge we read in the Vendîdâd, XIX. 29:
Then the fiend, named Vîzaresha, carries off in bonds the soul of the wicked Daêva-worshippers who live in sin. The soul enters the way made by time, and open both to the wicked and to the righteous. And at the head of the Kinvat bridge; the holy bridge made by Mazda, they ask for their spirits and souls the reward for the worldly goods which they gave away here below.
This bridge, which extends over hell and leads to paradise, widens for the soul of the righteous to the length of nine javelins, for the souls of the wicked it narrows to a thread, and they fall into hell32
When we find almost the same circumstantial account among the Mohammedans, it seems to me that we shall have to admit in this case an actual historical borrowing, and not, as in the case of Indians and Persians, a distant common origin. The idea of the bridge was probably adopted by the Jews in Persia33
, and borrowed by Mohammed from his Jewish friends. It is best known under the name of Es-Sirât. The seventh chapter of the Koran, called Al Aarâf, gives the following account of the bridge:
And betwixt the two there is a veil, and on al Aarâf are men who know each (the good and the wicked) by marks, and they shall cry out to the fellows of Paradise: Peace be upon you! They cannot enter it, although they so desire. But when their sight is turned towards the fellows of Fire, they say: O Lord, place us not with the unjust people! And the fellows in al Aarâf will cry out to the men whom they know by their marks, and say, Of no avail to you were your collections, and what you were so big with pride about; are these those ye swore that God would not extend mercy to? Enter Paradise, there is no fear for you, nor shall ye be grieved. But the fellows of Fire shall cry out to the fellows of Paradise, Pour out upon us water, or something of what God has provided you with.
When we find a similar account among the Todas in Southern India, it is difficult to say whether they derived it from the Brâhmans or possibly from a Mohammedan source. It resembles the latter more than the former, and it might be taken by some ethnologists as of spontaneous growth among the Dravidian inhabitants of India. According to a writer in the Nineteenth Century, June, 1892, p. 959, the Todas have a heaven and a hell, the latter a dismal stream full of leeches, across which the souls of the departed have to pass upon a single thread, which breaks beneath the weight of those burdened with sin, but stands the slight strain of a good man's soul.
In the Talmud, as I am informed by the Rev. Dr. Gaster, this bridge does not seem to be known. It is mentioned, however, in the 21st chapter of the Jana debe Eliahu, a work of the tenth century, but containing fragments of much earlier date. Here we read: In that hour (of the last judgment) God calls back to life the idols of the nations, and he says: Let every nation with their god cross the bridge of Gehinom, and when they are crossing it, it will appear to them like a thread, and they fall down into Gehinom, both the idols and their worshippers. The passage occurs once more in the Yalkut Shimeani, ii. § 500, ed. pr. (Salonica, 1526), f. 87 seq., and according to the best judges, the legend itself goes back to pre-islamitic times.
So far we are still on safe and almost historical ground. But the belief in such a bridge is not confined to the East; and yet, when we are told that the peasants in Yorkshire spoke not so long ago of a Brig o Dread, Na broader than a thread34
, we can hardly believe that this Brig o' Dread is the modern representative of the northern Bifröst bridge, because that bridge was never a very narrow bridge, to be crossed by the good only. I think we must here again admit a real historical communication. It is more likely, I think, that the idea of this bridge caught the fancy of some crusader, and that he spoke or sang of it on his return to France, and that with the Normans the Brig o' Dread travelled into England. In France also the peasants of Nièvre know of this bridge as a small plank which Saint Jean d'Archange placed between the earth and paradise, and of which they sing:
Pas pu longue, pas pu large
Qu'un ch'veu de la Sainte Viarge,
Ceux qu'savont la raison d' Dieu,
Par dessus passeront,
Ceux qu' la sauront pas
Au bout mourront.
Not longer, not larger than a hair of the Holy Virgin, those who know the reason of God (or the prayer of God) will pass over it; those who do not know it, will die at the end.
From the folk-lore of the peasants this belief in a bridge leading from this to a better world found its way into the folk-lore of mediæval theologians, and we read of a small bridge leading from purgatory to paradise in the Legenda Aurea, c. 50 (De S. Patricio), and in other places35
Is it not curious to see these ideas either cropping up spontaneously in different parts of the world, or handed on by a real historical tradition from India to Persia, from Persia to Palestine, from Palestine to France, and from France even to Yorkshire? And at the root of all, there is that simple but ineradicable belief that the Human and the Divine cannot be separated for ever, and that as the rainbow bridges heaven and earth, or as the galaxy shows us a bright way through myriads of stars to the highest Empyrean, there must be a bridge between Earth and Heaven, between the soul and God; there must be a Way, and a Truth, and a Life to guide the soul to its real home, or, as another religion expresses it, there must be a faith to take us home, and to make us all one in God. (Cf. St. John xvii. 21.)